High School 2 College

February 5, 2011

Advice for High School Seniors: Waiting for the “Congratulations” Email

By now, some of you have heard from a few colleges. (Are there really “fat envelopes” any more or just happy emails?)

If you’ve gotten into your early decision college, congratulations!  You worked hard for so many years in your classes.  You survived your SATs and ACTs.  You slogged through the applications, essays, resumes, and interviews.

But many of you are still waiting. You might have heard from a college or two , but the ones you really care about won’t let you know until mid- to late-March. Some hold back until April 1st.  Is that a cruel April Fools joke – or the beginning of the best spring ever?

Now what? Now you wait.  While you’re waiting, read some advice I’ve collected over the years to pass on to students like you.

First of all, don’t forget to have your guidance counselor send your mid-year report card to all of the colleges to which you applied.  If you’ve done something noteworthy since you applied, send it along to the colleges unless they’ve asked you not to.  (You should read their application page or instructions very carefully to see which schools welcome updates and which “seal” your application once the deadline passes.  If you can’t tell, call or email the admissions office.)

Next, read this article from Forbes.com about what colleges look for in an application and how many really qualified kids don’t get in.

It’s important to know that if a college says “no,” it’s not saying that you aren’t an appropriate candidate for the school.  It’s not saying you’re not smart enough, or pretty enough, or athletic enough.  The “sorry to inform you” email merely means they’ve got enough smart, pretty, athletic kids from New York, or they wanted to round out their orchestra with a French horn player but you play the oboe, or they already have too many psychology majors.  (Don’t say I didn’t warn you!)

According to this New York Times article, we should have pity on the poor colleges who have to choose.  Admissions counselors have too many qualified applicants for too few spots.  The author interviews admissions counselors who talk a little about their work load at this time of year and how they make decisions. (Juniors, pay attention!)

So when a college finally says yes, you can relax, right?

Not so fast.

First of all, the colleges that said yes want you to say yes back to them. As this New York Times article says, now is the time that colleges really turn on the charm.   Among the factors that determine which colleges are ranked close to the top and which are ranked farther down the list is a statistic called “yield,” the number of students who actually enroll from among the ranks of those who were accepted.  Harvard’s yield is very high — almost everyone who gets into Harvard goes there.  Your safety school probably has a lower yield — nearly everyone who applies will get in, but not many will wind up going to that school.  Yield makes a school look sought after, so now that the college said yes, it will do everything it can to get you to enroll.  That can make it hard to decide.  (If you need a little help sorting out the pros and cons of specific schools, feel free to email me with questions.)

With all those colleges wooing you, you might think you’ve really made it and you can finally relax. I don’t want to be a party-pooper or a buzz-kill, but you should read this LA Times article about how UCLA and other schools do withdraw acceptances from students whose grades slip too much.  And this New York Times article, entitled “Slackers, Beware” echoes the same warning.

If your grades had been all A’s and you drop down to a B+/A- , you’re probably fine.  But if your A’s are now C’s — or heaven forbid, D’s — you need to know that colleges can and do change their minds about letting you enroll.

But that won’t happen to any of MY students, right?  So take a deep breath, laugh at the juniors who are slaving away, and keep up the good work while you wait.

When you DO hear from schools, please don’t forget to let me know where you applied and which schools said no and which said yes.  I use that information to help next year’s students, just like I used the information from previous years to help you.  Thanks!

Wendy Segal

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